The Painted Hall

SGMT | Painted Hall, London
SGMT Fb London reflecting mirror

Exactly a year ago, at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, London.

It was our first day out and about in London. Our friends had asked us where we wanted to go and we’d said we’d like to see their favorite places in town, so Adam took us to Greenwich. The Painted Hall was one of our first stops. Originally conceived by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners, the Painted Hall has since been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK,” and its painted walls and ceilings by Sir James Thornhill are indeed a sight to behold. Mirrors, such as the one pictured above, are strategically placed around the building, enabling visitors to examine Thornhill’s masterpiece without having to keep their necks in perpetual hyperextension.

Fast forward a year later. I haven’t traveled overseas in a while — and I haven’t written much lately either. There’s just been so many things going on, responsibilities, old and new. Travel while you’re young, they say; travel while you can, before life’s commitments start weighing you down. But oddly enough, I don’t feel chained by my responsibilities at all. In a way, I’m glad that there’s more to my life than just me, than just what I want. I’ve said travel is the food of my soul, and it still is, and it always will be, but now my spirit draws sustenance from many other things too. And just like a simple dining hall can end up being a grand work of art, the little things in life, if you pour your heart and soul into them, can turn out to be a greater adventure and give you greater joy than any trip in the world.


The Road to Chateau d’If

View from the grounds of the Chateau d'If

View from the grounds of the Chateau d’If

While waiting for a boat to take us from the Chateau d’If to the rest of the Frioul islands, my sister and I fell into conversation with a Taiwanese lady named Sophie, who was in the south of France to select wines for her F&B company. When she learned we were from the Philippines, she proudly told us she had two Filipina friends who were working as domestic helpers back in Taipei.

Sophie expressed a deep respect for her friends: whereas most people would whine about how tired they were from work, her friends slaved without complaint and even prayed for side jobs so that they could send more money back home. From their example, Sophie said, she learned to appreciate what she had. Her job might sound heavenly, but in exchange for getting to visit chateaus and vineyards, taste delicious food and sip the world’s best wines, she has to live out of a suitcase and never stay in one place for long. Because of her Filipina friends, though, Sophie has learned not to complain; as it is, there were so many people in the world who did not have enough to eat. And my sister and I were very lucky, she pointed out: her two Filipina friends had to work hard to support their families, while there we were in the south of France, basking in the Mediterranean sun.

Sophie and Lei, waiting for the ferry

Sophie and Lei, waiting for the ferry

To a great extent, we really are very lucky. I won’t apologize for it: our parents came from poor families, but they have worked very hard to give us a good start, and we ourselves have studied hard and worked hard to get to where we are now. At the same time, no matter how hard we work, we will never be on the same level of comfort as the Zobels or the Henry Sys of this world, not even if we win the lottery ten times. And there are people who work harder than we do and still will only have enough to get by, one day at a time. So to a certain extent, there is indeed some luck involved. In the great lottery of life, we relatively lucked out; we worked with what we had, and life took us somehow, through twisted paths, to Chateau d’If on a warm October afternoon.

Entering one of the cells in Chateau d'If

Flowers in memory of Edmond

Funny to be contemplating about life and fortune in this rocky island off Marseille, where the fictional Edmond Dantes had his life and fortune unjustly taken away from him for countless years. The world isn’t fair, we know that now. Many of us have troubles of our own: challenges, hurts, many of them richly undeserved. But if The Count of Monte Cristo tells us anything, it’s that we won’t always be down and out; the wheel of life will turn. Maybe all we need to do is hang in there for a bit; count our blessings. (Also, it probably won’t hurt to start chipping away at the rocks.)

The Road to Chateau d’If” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Parts of this post were previously published in the post “The Lottery of Life.”


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Early birds

On our second to the last day in Kuala Lumpur, we rose early, determined to get to the Batu Caves and walk the nearly 300 concrete steps up to the main temple before the sun became unbearably hot. We wolfed down our free breakfast of coffee and kaya-on-toast, said a hasty goodbye to the hostel receptionist, and hurriedly navigated the detours caused by the massive construction in the middle of Bukit Bintang.

But then I saw this from the entrance of the monorail station, and I just had to stop to take a quick picture:

_KL2015_old ladies crossing the street

Isn’t that the cutest sight? Five old ladies, similarly dressed, most of them with handbags matching their clothes, taking an early morning walk together.

Oh, I know there’s probably a staid story behind it — probably going to a free orthopedic clinic, my friend said, or maybe collecting their senior citizen allowances and getting an early start to beat the queues. But I like to imagine they’re just off to have fun. I like to think they decided, just for that day, that they’ll leave their responsibilities at home, ignore their aching joints, and just have a romp ’round the city. Adventurers grow old too, but why shouldn’t their hearts remain young?

Early birds” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Connected | Mar Jefferson Go

I can’t draw. Can’t. And that’s not just modesty. I once sketched an apple, showed it to my son, asked him what it was, and he couldn’t identify it. No kidding — he really didn’t realize it was an apple, and he knows apples. So…I can’t draw. I resign myself to words.

Mar Jefferson Go Art

My friend Mar Jefferson Go can draw, but he doesn’t draw apples — he draws dreams. In the world of his imagination, oceans are home to planets, fish take flight with kites, paper boats set sail for unknown lands, and the heavens melt in purple strings.

Photo of "CONNECTED" | Wood 23" x 31" | Graphite, color pencil & acrylic

Photo of “CONNECTED” | Wood 23″ x 31″ | Graphite, color pencil & acrylic

“Connected” is Mar’s latest work and it features a child, like so many of his masterpieces. He says it’s a tribute to the limitless imagination of children, to their creativity unfettered by rules or reality, but I suspect — in the same way that many writers’ main characters are actually iterations of themselves — that Mar is also simply drawing a world that the child in him wishes he can inhabit. It’s an expression of his hopes for himself, for his family, and he’s inviting us to travel through, for a while.

You can see more of Mar Jefferson Go‘s work on:

Get in touch with him at boatpaperplane[at]gmail[dot]com.
(He accepts commissions for artwork. I’m actually saving up for a portrait of the non-apple-recognizing kid.)

It’s All Connected” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.